One common problem Booklab authors report is having to come up with fresh topics for conference papers that may never actually lead anywhere in terms of published research. Although the ideal situation is a conference topic that develops into an article and eventually becomes part of a book, real life is rarely that neat and precise. Instead, scholars often spend a great deal of distracting, rush-rush time on conference papers that wind up as unpublished computer files.
Milena Santoro in the French Department offered a workaround that I like much better. She suggests working on articles for publication from the beginning, and letting conference topics arise as the fruit of that research. Her logic is sound — a paper published in a key journal counts much more at tenure review than a conference presentation (sometimes as much as 3-4 times more). But if (for example) a journal article counts for 3 points and a conference presentation only counts one, they can be combined. An author can easily craft conference presentations from the paper’s core concepts or from outtake material that did not end up in the final draft, turning a three-point paper into four or five points without either increasing the writing workload or distracting the author from the goal of publishing the paper. Smart!
We’re getting excited about the upcoming American Political Science Association conference in early September, because it will provide a wonderful opportunity to visit the university press booth aisle. You do not have to be in one of the on-target to get a lot out of visiting booths at this conference; it will be instructive for faculty in many fields. Here is a list of exhibitors:
A group of Georgetown faculty (four so far) will go with me on Friday, September 3, and if that describes you, then you are welcomed to join us. I will host a pre-conference planning session in mid-August (TBA) so we can discuss presses and outreach for meetings. Then I’ll meet with faculty that morning at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel for coffee and strategy, followed by a morning of meetings and press booth visits. Those of us who want to will meet for lunch to discuss progress so far, and then we’ll break for more afternoon meetings and visits, with a final round-up discussion in the bar at 4 p.m.
Just FYI, this will NOT entail paying for the entire conference if you are not participating in it. At most conferences exhibit/day passes are available, and I will confirm that before the first information/strategy meeting.
Now and then someone comes to an author group completely crushed by something an agent, an editor, or a literary mentor said. The feedback could have been harsh or gentle, detailed or vague, accurate or off-base, but often the result is the same: the author feels censured. Some of my authors have completely shut down as productive scholars over various critical responses to their work.
Although I pride myself on reading written critiques fully, and learning from them whenever I can, I’m certainly not immune to a version of this pain. It can just plain hurt to be told no on something, even if the no is right and good. When the no is wrong and malicious, the pain is much worse.
Somewhere along the way — probably from a meditation leader — I learned to thank critics for criticism, and to go it one better by looking forward to more. The Work of Byron Katie has a version of this (her use of the phrase “I look forward to…” followed by the resisted reality), and I’m sure someone can point me to a Zen Buddhist teacher who said it millennia before she did, since her work seems to me to be essentially Zen.
Leaning into criticism, thanking the critic, and expressing the sentiment that you’re looking forward to more does at least two good things. First, it neutralizes pain almost instantly by taking away the resistance to pain, so it produces a calmer state. Second, it startles the critic, who was expecting pushback, and who instead receives praise. Instead of inciting more criticism, it can have the opposite effect where the critic begins enumerating things that are right about your work.
As is typical of just about anything, some Georgetown authors disagree about audience. Although a fair number would nod at the suggestion in yesterday’s post that a sophisticated understanding and appreciation of audience is one key to writing an essential book, there’s at least one dissenting view. A case can be made (and has been made) for writing to please yourself, with no concern for either audience or critics. Some highly successful authors do this, without caring how they are perceived, or received. The result? When it works well, this can yield smart, honest, memorable writing. Now that I’ve heard this other viewpoint, I’m torn. My nurture-nature wants to think about audience, but this different approach seems to have much wisdom in it as well.
Authors come to Booklab with all sorts of different notions about audience. The most common early thought is that the book is “for everyone,” when in fact audiences for books are almost always rather specific, and frustratingly challenging to suss out. Some interesting authors spend creative energy thinking about audience more pointedly (women or men? under 30 or mostly midlife and older? various ages but specific life experiences, such as military service or a shared faith?), and we offer specific tools to enhance that, but there can be even more to it than demographics.
The most amazing authors who have taught me much are those who place themselves in different relationships to their audiences. Everyday authors craft a “me up, you down,” asking “Who will buy and/or read this book and make me famous?” Rare and wonderful authors sit a little lower and place their readers a bit higher, asking “Whom do I serve? How will this be used? Whose needs can I meet and how fully? Why would a reader come to me versus (or in addition to) all the other choices out there, and how do I fulfill that role?”
A book written purely for promotion, attention, or wealth can succeed. But a book crafted with a defined audience’s needs in mind and heart is one that also stands a chance of going beyond immediate success into the realm of the essential.
Lewis Levenberg, a graduate student in Georgetown’s Communication, Culture and Technology program, works with Booklab from time time, giving us fresh ideas for using the internet and various social media to promote authors and books. I invited him to guest-post some of his thoughts about digital books online:
What Google Books Can Mean For You
A lot of confusion and controversy surrounds the ongoing saga of the Author’s Guild and Association of American Publishers‘ legal action against Google. Since 2005, these two book-world powers have been locked in protracted argument with the search giant’s books division over copyright and payment issues. This complex, long-term negotiation seems to be drawing to a close, with Google honing in on the rights to expand what they hope will become the largest-ever “digital library.” However, the fact that this vast database of scanned texts is well on its way to becoming the primary reading and retail source for books on the web does NOT mean that authors are left high and dry, only to watch as their work becomes available to view (at least in part) online.